I could write and say a lot about Ward Churchill's phenomenal talk tonight at St. Stephens Church here in DC in front of about 80 people, but I guess I lack the energy for that (at least by my standards; I guess this is still long). It was very rich and inspiring.
One thing that struck me was that on very short notice, so many people will come to see a man who is bascially telling people to organize in your community and take action and fight systems of oppression. You can get 80 people in a room with virtually no notice if the person is as iconic as Ward Churchill, and yet to take action against the repression he writes about, to organize in a manner that aims to take action, you can build for weeks and get less than a third of that number. The very scene of Churchill in a room in front of a large group suggested much of the oppression he writes about, and what impressed me was that he KNEW IT and noticed it and was concerned that we think about ways to make the model more participatory.
Another big thing that struck me was his discussion of colonialism and how it has become internalized. He writes about this a lot in his books, and so it was no surprise that he spoke about internal colonialism in the way that nations that have been de-colonized (like say, the United States), nevertheless practice colonialism on people who live within its borders (borders which are themselves colonial instruments). What's more, when we fight against any of these colonial powers, we ourselves have a tendency to re-create colonial structures. So, we talk about getting Bush out of office but think nothing of the colonial system currently in place. Or, we talk about taking over the state, but that very act props up the central mechanism of oppression. And, we organize this way, too. Some groups like ANSWER even defend that kind of organizing as necessary in order to fight the larger power of imperialism, which is the US government. Other groups pretend otherwise. All of them seem to think you can take on colonialism merely by taking on the colonial power, but all of them have a tendency to re-create colonialism in their own structures and thus can at best only morph colonialism into a new form.
Have we changed anything if we do not challenge our own privilege? Our own sense of entitlement? Our own participation in colonial governing structures? He said that if he gave us a pill that got rid of war, racism, sexism, classism, and anything else that we consider unjust but have not understood and confronted the process that gives rise to all of these - namely colonialism - then we have not even begun to solve the problem. And, yet, too often we build social movements based on colonial models and as structures that mimic colonial institutions.
So, he suggests community-based organizing and building networks of mutual solidarity free from a sense of moral purity because there is no such thing. I guess one could call it embracing what I'd call a deconstructive morality, one that's rooted in understanding the process of oppression, reacting against that, and taking action against the causes without any sense that we can control the ultimate outcome or without a vision of a better world. At the very least, we can work on stopping a history that has produced such unsustainable madness.
At least, that's what I got out of it, in part. There was a lot more (especially about repression of movements and the idea that we are not being serious in our activism if we are not being repressed). All of it pointed to thinking about our actions and our dissent in terms of dismantling the cause of the injustice. Without understanding that, we won't get anywhere. I think that's why we who have been taking these weekly actions outside of people's homes are out there connecting dots and beginning to upset some people. Only now are we beginning to get serious. But, the fact that we have to hear the Gospel according to Ward, no matter how great that Gospel is, suggests to me that we've still got a very, very, very long ways to go.